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Empire of Pain

Empire of Pain

The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Book - 2021
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Presents a portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, who built their fortune on the sale of Valium and later sponsored the creation and marketing of one of the most commonly prescribed and addictive painkillers of the opioid crisis.
The Sacklers are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis. Keefe begins with the three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments, devised the marketing for Valium, and built the first great Sackler fortune. Forty years later the template he created to sell Valium was employed to launch a far more potent product: OxyContin. -- adapted from jacket
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2021]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2021
ISBN: 9780385545686
Call Number: 338.4761 K242e
Characteristics: xii, 535 pages : illustrations, genealogical table ; 24 cm


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May 16, 2021

I admired this author's previous book ("Say Nothing") so much, that I wondered if he could pull off such excellent detailed investigative reporting and smooth narrative writing again. The answer is 'yes'. Keefe's work in investigating and documenting the history of the slippery Sackler family is brilliant.

Keefe documents several generations of Sacklers who came to their immense wealth through the manufacturing, marketing and sale of pharmaceuticals. He details the start of their business with selling laxatives and some relatively benign drugs. This leads to the sale of Valium and eventually to the ruthless and relentless marketing of OxyContin (which caused the ongoing catastrophe of opioid deaths and much misery in many families, communities and countries).

The Sackler family is almost unbelievably greedy. Yes, their name is also well-known for their philanthropy, especially in the visual arts. But the manoeuvres the Sacklers made around government regulation and legal actions against their company are terrible. Many institutions have changed the signage or even returned the gifts from the Sacklers, nudged toward these decisions by activists protesting the financial "origin" of these acquisitions or programmes.

"Empire of Pain" is very well researched and documented. But, it reads smoothly as the references are all in an appendix, by page number. This really helps the reader keep "the flow" of this somewhat complicated story (which covers a number of legal processes).

If you are like me, once you start reading this book you will want to keep reading. But, you will have to put it down at certain points because you will be so angry at how these people manoeuvred around legitimate legal enquiries, and avoided taking responsibility for the misery they helped cause.

This is an important book that I would highly recommend whether you like to read about white collar crime, sagas of 'the rich and famous', or want to understand just how we came to the terrible situations in many, many communities with a 'pandemic' of opioid addictions and deaths.


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